I write a lot about budget travel – about how to make every dollar and very pound stretch that little bit further and how to make the most of what you have. Because that’s what we backpackers do, we make every penny count towards the incredible life we build on the road. I know people who have slept in parks, lived on instant noodles and even taken up questionable jobs to make ends meet and to keep the experience going just a little longer. We all do what we can, I’ve been the poorest I’ve ever been in my life while travelling and still managed to keep my dream alive instead of heading home. Those are the moments that define us, when travelling stops being easy and things go wrong, when you don’t know how you’ll afford a bed for the night or how you’ll pay for food for the week. This is when we really have to work for our travelling dream and damn, do we work. I’ve worked some of the hardest and most demanding jobs of my life since travelling, I’ve given them every hour of the day, every last bit of energy I had, and then some. I’ve worked two jobs when everyone else was partying, and in one job I was treated the worst I’ve ever been by another human. But it was all worth it, just to stay one more day and keep it going.
Whether you agree with us backpackers being able to claim back our tax or not, you need to realise that we don’t just do it on a whim. These claims come after a year of working our asses off and often being treated like crap – without any control over what was happening. Now I’m not saying all employers are like this in Australia – some are incredible and give you amazing opportunities, but there are also a lot who take advantage of the fact that we are travelers. The ones who give us no hours at all or refuse to give us time to sleep and when we ask for a day off, threaten us with the sack, or the ones who refused to pay friends of mine after they had completed the work. The fruit picking farmers who take advantage of the fact that you’re desperate for that second year visa by forcing you to work for an unfair wage, refuse to sign you off because they don’t like you or even try it on with you. My own experiences with farm work were pretty dire, I’ll talk about that more in a later post, I’ve had landlords refuse to pay back bonds and stop returning my calls. And don’t get me started on the hostel owner from hell who used to scream in the faces of my friends who worked there and treat them like dirt on his shoe. My point is, we as backpackers get messed around when we’re over there. I know it’s not the only side of the story and there are lots of businesses who have been messed around by bad workers who were backpacking, but after my experiences I don’t feel guilty for one second for claiming every cent back.
So when it comes to this time of year and you start getting those reminders through about claiming your backpacker tax back, oh boy do you smile. Because now more than ever, you realise how it was all worth it when the money you’re getting back will pay for your entire West Coast trip. Considering how much I managed to see and do while I was in Australia – a month in Sydney, six weeks on the East Coast, four months in Darwin, three months in central Queensland for farm work and three months in Melbourne – I also managed to work a lot. If you’ve worked in Australia and claimed your own tax back at any point, you’ll understand why I feel like I’ve had a bit of a windfall and am grinning from ear-to-ear. All that time when I was getting overtaxed for my sales job has paid off because now I can see it like an extreme savings scheme that has just paid out. It’s an amazing feeling to know that I already have a nice pot of money, plus my savings, waiting for me when I return and that I can start planning my incredible West Coast road trip straight away. There’s something very satisfying about paying for your whole trip yourself – I’m always proud of the fact that I’ve funded my entire adventure despite what some people might think. But it is lovely when you get a bit of a bonus like this, it’s like a pat on the back for all your hard work in making your dream come true. Because let’s face it, we all dream of winning the lottery, of picking the right scratch card or just getting plain lucky and coming into just enough money to pick up and take off without a second thought. What’s that quote? “If travel was free, you’d never see me again” and how true that is, if it wasn’t for the expense I would have probably traveled the entire way around the globe by now. There are so many countries on my bucket list but I know the one thing standing in my way right now is money, without it I’m just not free to achieve all I want in life. The truth is, when it comes down to it I don’t need much. These days I carry my life on my back and don’t have expensive tastes – I’ve spent much of my travelling time sleeping in wooden huts and travelling with the locals. The problem is that travel does add up when you’re jetting all over the world. Even if you’re staying in budget accommodation and eating from street markets, to keep it going for any length of time you’re talking thousands and if you have a taste for the more luxurious then you better start stacking the notes. Everyone at home has been talking about winning the lottery lately, it’s like some new version of the American Dream – as if a windfall would answer all of our problems and take us off to a new life of utter freedom. And who’s to say it wouldn’t, these days money spells freedom and that’s all any of us really want, freedom from the mundane, working life, freedom from the rubbish weather at home and freedom from expectation. Money buys you an escape, and therefore buys you freedom.
That’s why getting this tax back is so amazing and why it makes such a different for travelers – because it means that instead of the dream being over it can extend for just that little bit longer. For me, it means going back to Australia with dollar in my bank, enough to fund the next exciting part of my travels. For others, it means months of travelling Asia or South America, a boost to your New Zealand fund or even a chance to travel Europe. So many travelers I know are so grateful to get their tax back because it means they can continue living their dream just that little bit longer before returning home, to reality. It gives us freedom to continue living the backpacker life for as long as possible, and to make the most of every cent before we go back to a life of saving and living for payday. If you haven’t already applied for your tax rebate – why the hell not? I worked for about nine months of my first year and I’m getting more than the average tax back of around $2,600 – so it’s definitely worth doing. Don’t be put off by the paperwork – it doesn’t take long and it’s more than worth it for the cash! Either head to the Australian Government website to claim it back independently (super easy) or go through TaxBack.com if you want someone else to do the legwork for a small charge. Either way – don’t miss out on claiming back your money because you’re lazy – that’s your next travelling fund right there!
What are you spending your tax rebate on? How did you claim back your tax – can you recommend a way? Have you claimed from other countries?